Monday, July 29, 2013

Breaking Through A Quarter Life Crisis

“I can’t do anything with this history degree except teach, and I am tired of teaching.”

So said Nan at about age 25. This prompted her to change direction and pursue an M.A. in educational psychology and eventually marriage and family counseling. (My journey was all over the map and didn’t include the typical education track.) 

There are quite a few variations on the definition of a “quarter life crisis”. But all of them seem to agree that it affects many 25-35 year-olds after they have finished school. It is a time of confusion, wanting to get on with life but unable to get started. They probably have ended up back at their parent’s house, can’t find a job and may regret the choice of college degree that they have attained. The result is anxiety and depression and feeling stuck.

How do you break through this ‘crisis’?

The universal answer seems to be a familiar one. It’s time to break denial and face reality. You are overeducated yet unprepared for many of the jobs that are available. Or you have been trained in a field that has few opportunities and little or no commercial value. This is a harsh reality. You also may have been fed the lie that if you pursue your passion, the money will follow. Tell that to most music majors. They will probably have a different story.

What is helpful?

  • Grieve the loss of the life that you imagined would result from your university degree. It’s simply more difficult these days to transition from college to a ready and waiting job in the field that you have chosen. You will probably have to cast a much wider net. You may even have to choose a completely different field and train for that. 

  • Don’t look backwards, it will only encourage depression. Life at college was simple, if not easy. You knew what was expected, and as a result you could proceed with relative confidence. Not so much now. Looking forward may cause you to feel anxious, but it’s the only direction you have to go. Embrace it. 

  • Surround yourself with optimistic people. Ask yourself what is possible and realistic. Try stuff. If you spend time regretting the guidance you didn’t get or the bad advice you did get it will only make it worse. Get some direction from people in the real world who can help you now. 

  • Don’t compare yourself to your parents or other friends who are ahead of you in the game. Your parents likely had it very different when they started out. They may have had less education, but were more employable – and the job market was less stringent. Your friends may have chosen a more practical degree, such as math/computer/science/healthcare. 

  • Ask yourself what would make you valuable to a prospective employer. What would make you stand out from the other applicants? If you really don’t know, talk to employers that you or your parents know. They can be found everywhere. Their expectations and perspectives may be vastly different from yours.    

  • Don’t give up! Know that you will break free at some point if you just keep trying. 35 years old is the upper limit because most people will be established in something by then. 

I’m encouraging Nan to post on skills for getting a job. Maybe you have some suggestions. How about posting in the comment box and share your thoughts.

Friday, July 19, 2013

6 Things Therapists Can’t Do

Every once in a while I have someone come into the counseling room and announce:

“So, are you going to fix me up?” or sometimes “Are you going to fix my husband/wife?”

Usually we both laugh. It’s like someone has a broken bone that needs to be splinted. I agree that something is indeed broken, but we may not agree on whose job it is to do the fixing. I wish therapists had super powers, too. It would be so much easier than having to go through what sometimes ends up being a painful process – for both the client and counselor.

What can’t a therapist do?

  • They cannot go through the grieving process for you if you have suffered a loss. They can’t take away the pain, only grieve with you. 
  • They cannot do the work for you. You must practice the tools that are given to you. And then practice some more. Breaking old patterns take determination and time. If you ignore the homework it will extend your time in therapy. 
  • They cannot change your heart or your attitude. That is totally up to you and you must desire it enough to surrender your will. 
  • They cannot make you consistent in keeping your appointments and staying with the process. That is totally up to you. It is very frustrating to have to begin again after a significant break. Going from crisis to crisis is a painful way to live life.
  •  They cannot make you honest or vulnerable. It is hard to reveal things about ourselves that we are not proud of or that carry a lot of shame. But things not disclosed can’t be dealt with. Fortunately there is grace, forgiveness and healing for those who are willing to take the risk. 
  • They cannot guarantee the outcome that you want. They can’t guarantee that your spouse will change, your kids will heal, your addiction will disappear or your anxiety or depression will depart, never to return. They can only walk with you with expertise and hope.

Does this mean that counseling is not effective? Not at all. It just means that it requires more from you than you might have expected. 

There is a Super Power however. That is why we invite the Holy Spirit to be part of the counseling sessions. Sometimes hearts are changed rapidly. Sometimes deep healing occurs. Usually, however, it takes following the practical steps that are offered to make the incremental changes that produce results that you desire. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Hard Way is the Right Way

Every couple of years Nan & I attend an international Christian counseling conference in Nashville. One of the hard tasks is picking out the tracks (classes) that we will attend. There are so many that are enticing. Do we go to tracks that our friends are teaching, or do we go to the really popular ones, or do we choose tracks that will challenge our thinking?

John Townsend is presenting one that besides being popular also sounds intriguing. The title is: The Hard Way is the Right Way: Helping People Face What Must be Faced, and Succeed.

I am anticipating what he might tell us, and I know it’s not what most people want to hear.

I think of the many times I want to follow my feelings and bail out on a hard decision. Then I remind myself that not making a decision is a decision in itself. Ouch! If you are like me, you don’t like conflict. But I know that the path to resolving problems often takes us through the anxiety-producing valley of conflict.

I think of people I know who are facing a lot of financial turmoil. No choice seems to be a good one. There will be loss involved in any decision that they make. Having to choose a painful process is really hard. But it is the right thing to do if getting back to stability is their goal.

What hard choices do you have to face?

  • Letting go of a bad relationship?
  • Staying in a difficult marriage because you made a commitment before God and others?
  • Making decisions about an aging parent?
  • Doing an intervention on an addicted family member?
  • Letting a child face the consequences of their bad choices? 
  • Turning down a lucrative but immoral business decision? 
  • Accepting reality when a fantasy is satisfying?
  • Standing up for your faith when you know you will be rejected or ridiculed?

I’ll bet all of you could add to this list. I know I could. Really what we are talking about here is following your values rather when they are in conflict with your feelings. And perhaps that means really struggling to clarify and establish your values. Ultimately we will follow what we actually believe. If I don’t believe God is able to see me through a painful place, I will likely fold.

Just something to think about.  

Friday, July 5, 2013


Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “passion” in several ways. One of those definitions is considered obsolete these days: suffering. But I think it is very valuable to use that definition as it applies to life pursuits.

In this culture we would probably consider suffering a bad thing on a first glimpse. And the ways we try to avoid pain is legion. Just consider the popularity of drugs, alcohol and entertainment as methods to escape from boredom, loneliness and reality.

But our willingness to suffer for something we love or care deeply about is a worthy pursuit.

Don’t misunderstand me. I feel fear, or at least uncomfortable when it comes to the thought of suffering - especially when the pain is needless or pointless. But if I am passionate about the goal I am pursuing it changes my perspective.

  • I am passionate about my marriage, but it has been painful at times.
  • I am passionate about my career, and it has been very difficult as well. 
  • I am passionate about my faith, and I have struggled with doubt and fear and guilt.  
  • I am passionate about emotional wellness and my inner journey, but depression and anxiety has followed me along the road at times. 
         “Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.”  C. S. Lewis 
  • I am passionate about the condition of our country, but I have suffered painfully with its decline. 
  • I am passionate about music, but having self-discipline to practice on my instrument has not always been an easy pursuit.

Whatever you are not willing to suffer for, you are not ready for – relationships, especially.

What are you willing to suffer for? What means so much to you that you will push past the pain? What goal is so significant that you are willing to volunteer your precious time or money to achieve it? 

Psalm 105:4 (NLT)
Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him.